“When Baba Segi woke with a belly ache for the sixth day in a row, he knew it was time to do something about his fourth wife’s childlessness”.

The secret lives of Baba Segi’s wives is a novel written by Lola Shoneyin.

Baba Segi is a patriarch overweight, proud and wealthy middle aged man. He already has 3 wives and 7 children when he meets Bolanle and decides to have her for himself. Unlike his three other wives, she is educated, polished and beautiful and could definitely do better than be fourth wife to a ‘buffon’ as her mother calls him, but for reasons known to her, she decides to join his household.

Horrified that their husband has brought another wife home, the first and third wives, Iya Segi and Iya Femi begin to plot Bolanle’s downfall. The real can of worms is however opened when Bolanle is unable to concieve.

Lola Shoneyin did not sugarcoat things. She portrayed the day-to-day life, the ugly politics/power tussle that happens in a polygamous family, and the length to which the wives are willing to go to secure their positions in their husband’s home. I should know, seeing as I am from a polygamous family myself.

The writing style was fantastic with well developed characters. Each character has a mysterious history. As the novel unfolds, the background of each wife prior to her marriage to Baba Segi is unveiled.

The story is told mainly from Bolanle’s point of view. However, Baba Segi, his three wives, Segi and his driver also get to have their say. There was a wide ranve of narrators, but despite the different voices, the novel maintained a smooth flow and a clear narrative.

At first, I pictured Bolanle as the victim. But as the story unfolded, I realized that the real victim here is Baba Segi. Victim of patriarchy, tradition and poverty.
Everything bad you can imagine happened around Baba Segi: Rape,Adultery, Betrayal, Attempted murder, death, abortion etc.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book, although it left me feeling unsettled and sober after the last page had been turned.

It is a must read.